Bring back the (real) Nurburgring

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Nurburgring Nordschleife, 2007, 470150

This weekend is the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. The mammoth race with over 200 entrants takes place on the mighty Nurburgring Nordschleife, home of the German Grand Prix until 1976.

I’m sure the following is no more than a pipe dream, but let’s allow ourselves a little indulgence here and ask, how could F1 ever go back to the real Nurburgring? And how spectacular would it be if it did?

Looking at the restrictions on building a modern Grand Prix track makes for depressing reading.

Take smoothness for example – an F1 track’s surface must no vary by more than 3mm every four metres. Or corner banking, which may be no greater than a mere 10 degrees.

I understand the need and importance of pursuing a safer sport. But I think F1 has gone too far in terms of making tracks easier rather than safer. Look at how flat and unchallenging circuits like Bahrain and Shanghai are compared to the original Nurburgring.

The N?â??rburgirng is the greatest circuit in the world. Seeing F1 cars race thee again would be immense.

In order to do it the restrictions on track radius, gradient, smoothness and s on would have to be waived. The cost of installing new run-off areas would be huge, but hell, F1 is awash with cash and I bet if there was a will then a way would be found.

Yes, I know I’m being crazy, unreasonable and romantic. But Monte-Carlo’s extremes have been tolerated for decades. If it’s OK to have F1 cars blast through the Monaco tunnel at 150 mph with zero run-off in dim light, then perhaps with a little imagination and an Ecclestone-sized wad of cash, they could do the same at the Nurburgring.

At the very least, can we agree that F1 tracks have become too simple, too uniform, and too unchallenging, and that taking a bit more inspiration from the Nordschleife would be no bad thing?

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34 comments on Bring back the (real) Nurburgring

  1. Ogami said on 23rd May 2008, 17:24

    I’m sure the nurburgring is a great track, but the F1 GPs i saw on the full track were the dullest i’ve never seen…

    The track is too long so if any car/driver has an advantage in only one lap he builds a huge gap, and that makes closing pace for the others really hard.

    While i’d like to see the return of more elevation in F1 tracks (and laguna seca would be great) i don’t want to see nurburgring come back.

  2. MJohnHurt said on 23rd May 2008, 17:27

    Leaving aside the fact that you’d never find an F1 driver to do it, a modern F1 spec car will never run in competition on the Indy oval.

    Regarding the non-championship race in Laguna Seca, that’s a fascinating idea. Think of it this way, the manufacturers could put their money where their mouth is – prove to Bernie that there’re people there by putting their own money on the line and going racing. And heck, even if no one would pay Bernie’s blood money, run it anyway. I the manufacturers want to pay more than lip service to their desire to have an F1 race in the USA, put one there.

    (also, I live about 60 minutes from Indy so I strongly support the USGP returning there but to be honest I would gladly cede it to Laguna Seca for a chance to see modern cars go through the corkscrew in competition.)

  3. Eric M. said on 23rd May 2008, 18:15

    If they had a GP on the Nordschleife, they could charge whatever they want for admission, and I would pay.

  4. Phil B said on 23rd May 2008, 18:15

    MJohnHurt wrote: ‘Leaving aside the fact that you’d never find an F1 driver to do it’

    If that’s true (which I doubt) then we simply need new drivers in F1.

  5. Robert McKay said on 23rd May 2008, 18:41

    From a practical side of things, leaving aside the upgrading of the circuit, (possible, just expensive) it would be tough to marshal and keep the same level of safety of a normal F1 race. However, they manage to do it pretty well at Le Mans, so I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s tough to televise a bit as well, since you would have gaps at some sections, presumably, because having a camera on every corner just isn’t practical. However with decent onboards and a couple of helicopters, as opposed to just one, you could probably do it.

    I think a race there is a pipe dream at least for F1. I suspect some enterprising businessman may well try and set up a proper historic GP type racing series in the near future, either using an existing series or a new one, if the current move away from “traditional” tracks continues.

    But maybe realistically a sort of F1 time trial thing could be held there without too much effort? If the problem really is safety, having just one car at a time blasting round makes it easy for them if anything does go wrong. Might not quite be what we’d hope for but still I wouldn’t mind seeing something like that.

  6. Andy Duncan said on 23rd May 2008, 18:52

    I love Laguna but it would need a lot of work to bring it up to Eccelstone standards, and it’s not a very pretty track which makes it bad for television.

  7. Bowks said on 23rd May 2008, 21:24

    I think they messed up when the current GP circuit at the Nurburgring was built.
    I remember a website called (sadly no more) that showed the earliest configuration with the nothern and southern loops. The original sudschleife would have been more than ample to stage the GP and much shorter to convert into a modern GP circuit. Had plenty of turns and challenges that would have been more like Spa-francorchamps is today, now wouldn’t that have been great?

  8. Couple of thoughts:

    – Looking at the quality of the marshals these days, are we really that much safer then Lauda crashed?

    – If they raced at the old ‘ring, we could see the first 1,000,000 in attendance for any sporting event… ever. Who would not go and see that race?

    – The Nurburgring is the ultimate test where unlike the Tilke-dromes of today, the driver makes the most difference. The race would be a lot more competitive than anyone could imagine.

    – I went through the track and found that there are lot less that needs to be changed in terms of run off area. If you added some run off space at Flugplatz, Bergwerk, Eschenback, Brunchen and the other higher gear turns, it would go a long ways to improving the safety of the track. Remember, there is a lot of the track where you don’t get over 4th gear.

    – We are to the point now in terms of communications, wireless electronics, emergency medical knowledge, and the safety of the cars themselves where this would be possible. Oh man would it be great.

  9. I think a race on the Nordschleife would watch like a rally, which would be entertaining in its own special way. I wonder how to deal with the race distance, would it only be about 20 laps around?

    I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that the running theme for ruination of circuits is the notion of the long straight followed by the incredible turn, which must be taken perfectly to ensure you maintain enough speed in the next long straight.

    F1 drivers have absolutely no problem with keeping up their straightline speed, except maybe Jenson Button, so which is the better answer:

    Take all the chicanes out of Monza?

    Or introduce dozens of chicanes into the straights of Catalunya?

    I also don’t know what F1 has against banked, sweeping corners, I think they have the potential to be more difficult than the kinks and hairpins of today. I submit Turkey’s Turn 8 as evidence: let’s renovate that into a tightening, banked curve and watch the g-forces climb.

  10. Steven Roy said on 24th May 2008, 1:16

    The only slight problem with a Nordscleife race is that modern F1 cars can’t survuve a single lap of it.

    When Heidfeld did his demo he couldn’t get anywhere near the line at the Karussel because BMW were worried it would literally shake their car to bits and that is only one corner.

    Since 1976 we have lost suspension travel and gained massive aerodynamically. If a modern car was to take Flugplatz flat out it would smash into piece on landing.

    It really shows the mess F1 is in that the ultimate racing cars are utterly incapable of running on the ultimate racing track.

    It goes to show what I have been saying for years. The technical regulations need a massive overhaul.

  11. the limit said on 24th May 2008, 4:12

    When watching the video replays of Niki Lauda’s near fatal crash there in 1976, one is drawn to several major dilemmas involving the old Nurburgring circuit.
    As others have mentioned, the track is extremely long, very hard to marshal safely. Add into that equation. What is to stop a member of the public from entering the track under green flag conditions, as in Hockenheim in 2000?
    Also, the closeness of the barriers. In Lauda’s crash, his car slams into the armco, bursts into flames, and then spins right back onto the racing line. A split second after the car stops spinning, Lauda is broadsided by another car at speed. One very, very lucky Austrian.
    If you could imagine that happening today, on the same straight, to the lead car, with another 19 cars behind him. It would be like Spa 1998 times ten.
    The simple reason why this terrific, legendary circuit is not used is because it is too dangerous, too notorious. The powers at be are not prepared to a. spend the money needed to revamp the circuit. b. to take the risk in case of another accident, such as Lauda’s.
    The reason the run off areas are there is obvious. They are there to help slow the cars in the event of an accident, and also to prevent a car from entering back onto the racing line. In not all circuits is this possible, but the racionale is, the bigger the run off, the less likely it is to happen.
    Don’t forget Senna’s crash for example, which is one big reason for these rules being in place.

  12. Michael Counsell said on 24th May 2008, 4:23

    It would be a challenge for everyone but its just not realistic. Its a great circuit for 24 hour racing but its just too big for an F1 race. Taking all things into consideration I have no real desire to see F1 cars at the old nurburgring and I understand why they race on the short circuit.

  13. Michael K said on 24th May 2008, 11:43

    Oh, one of my favourite subjects!!

    1. You could never pay for changing the track to confirm with the F1 regulations, and I for one would never want that to happen as it is too much fun right now.

    2. So F1 would have to change their regulations, well, that’ll never happen as they are there for a reason and if you would race on the Nordschleife as it is, even with some safety changes, means there is a high likelyhood of seeing dead drivers again. Nothing is worth that cost.

    3. With regards to drivers not having the cojones, at least Kimi is one of the current drivers who has said he’d be up for racing there.

    4. With regards to suspension travel, Heidfeld’s lap etc..
    I don’t think an F1 car would smash to pieces at Flugplatz as it probably won’t even take off. In any case, it shouldn’t so that is a place where the drivers would really have to watch how fast they are going, as death would be waiting for them if they were going too fast. That would arguably be a step back to the good old days when it comes to driver motivation. As would be many other corners for that matter as an F1 car would go round there so much faster that you wouldn’t see that many 3rd gear corners as you see with normal racing cars now. If Heidfeld would have driven one lap without slowing down for pics etc. at the safe speed that he was travelling at, it would have been a new lap record. BMW intentionally didn’t let that happen.

    So yes, today’s F1 cars are able to race on the Nordschleife today, with changes to the setup, and no, they won’t break. But considering the speed they would be racing at, it’s unbelievably dangerous. Now there will be some “experts” saying that it’s up to the drivers to decide what’s safe and what’s not, well, what do think happens if you put a bunch of egomaniacs in F1 cars on the track? Yes, they will racing to the limit, and there will be deaths over the course of a few years, so it’ll sadly never happen…

  14. Matt L. said on 24th May 2008, 11:55

    There’s obviously a nice ring to having “the ultimate racing cars” running on the “ultimate circuit”. However, I don’t think this would really work. As some mentioned before, current F1 cars could hardly survive more than a couple of laps on the ‘Ring… and with a starting grid of just 20-24 cars we’d hardly get much of a race on a track of over 25 km (including the GP circuit).

    Changing the track itself (track surface, run-off zones) would be next-to impossible in my opinion. First, it wouldn’t be FIA paying for those modifications, but they’d rather leave it to the track owners; who in turn would have to try and get government subsidies. A couple of years ago, when both Nurburgring and Hockenheim had to be modified, it was already hard to convince the government to shell out the kind of money needed.

    Now, with Schumacher gone, no other German pilot even close to a chance of getting driver’s champion, and GPs held in Germany down to just one… let’s just say chances are slim to get the necessary funding.

    And then there’s the track itself. Nordschleife is being called “Green Hell” for a reason… have a look at the live streams from the 24h race, the hundreds of youtube clips, or try to do a lap in GT4 or any other game that has it. Could you imagine all this being replaced by wide runoff zones and a clean, F1-proof track surface? It would take away most of what the ‘Ring stands for, and at least I wouldn’t want to see that kind of sacrifice for a racing series which over the recent years has turned more into some kind of political drama than actual motor sport.

    Besides security issues, it would also be hard to “sell” a feature race on the ‘Ring… the only grandstands are near the GP circuit, so you’d have to cover the rest of the track with helicopters and stationary TV cameras… it’s not impossible, but I wonder if it’d be worth the effort for just a 2 hours race. As for spectators, I believe that there’s somewhere around 200,000 there for the 24 hours race… at a ticket pricing of about 30-40 Euros.

    So… as I’m ranting on for far too long here, maybe taking a different approach would work. Somebody already mentioned time trials, and BMW showed (was it in ’06 or ’07?) that they COULD modify their cars to tackle most of the circuit at somewhat reduced speed. So… how about something like the “Race of Champions”? Let’s maybe also get in some former F1 pilots or drivers from other series as well, and then have them compete for best times in different cars (including modified F1 cars)…

    Oh… and before I forget about it. Keith, I fully agree to your last paragraph: More Nordschleife couldn’t hurt any modern track, I guess.

  15. Sush said on 24th May 2008, 11:59

    I know your saying Ecclestone sized wad of cash in terms of his fortune, but taken literally that would be like 56 euros.

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